Mention the term "jazz-rock" and listeners will likely think of such acts as Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, and Weather Report, but in the early '70s a band called Chase rivaled all of them, and bid fair to take the country by storm; in fact, for a little while in 1971, they did precisely that with a chart-topping single, a Grammy nomination, and a high place in reader polls. Chase were formed by trumpet virtuoso Bill Chase in 1970, at a time when, thanks to outfits like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, the public was beginning an infatuation with jazz-rock fusion. Though their roots went back to 1968, Chase came along at just the right moment to ride that wave to major chart success in 1971, with the hit single "Get It On" and the accompanying self-titled debut album.
Bill Chase (born William Edward Chiaiese on October 24, 1934) hailed from Boston, MA; the family (which changed its name to "Chase" while Bill Chiaiese was a boy) was musical on both sides, especially his mother's — one great-uncle had even played trumpet with the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Bill Chase took up violin as a boy and later played percussion in the school band, but he found his real musical calling in 11th grade when, for the first time, he started playing the trumpet. He never looked back, and the only change in course on his way to a career was his shift from classical music to jazz, which took place around 1951, in the wake of attending a Stan Kenton concert, where he first encountered the playing of Maynard Ferguson. Chase later attended the Berklee School of Music, where he studied both classical and jazz, and his teachers included John Coffey and Herb Pomeroy.
In the course of a decade, from the mid-'50s through the mid-'60s, he went from playing in local Boston dance bands to playing with Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson — he was recording with Ferguson in the late '50s and became a featured soloist, writer, and arranger in Woody Herman's Herd, and could be seen prominently in the Herd's appearances on television as well as heard on their records. He later established himself in Las Vegas and was requested as a musician whenever he could appear on The Ed Sullivan Show or The Tonight Show. The seeds for his own band were planted in 1968, at just about the point when he found himself growing bored with the lot of a star soloist and began looking for a new vehicle through which to express himself and play his music. He began putting a group of his own together informally that year, and pulled together the beginnings of a core of a permanent band in 1969 — this was the group that was eventually known as Chase, once it coalesced the following year. Bill Chase's original notion was that it would be an instrumental outfit, but he later added room for a singer and for vocals in the group's work, in order to extend its range and audience appeal.
The lineup that made it to their actual first record, in addition to Bill Chase, consisted of Jay Burrid on drums, Phil Porter on keyboards, Dennis Johnson on bass and vocals, John Palmer on guitar, and Alan Ware, Jerry Van Blair, and Ted Piercefield on trumpet (the latter two also sang), with Terry Richards on lead vocals. All of these musicians were superb, though it was the four trumpets that gave the band its edge and distinctive sound. Chase were signed to Epic Records and were roaring up the charts in 1971 with "Get It On," an original that they'd been kicking around for months in various lineups (and initially without words), blasting it out over AM radio right to the number one spot. The group's debut album marked its musical and commercial peak — Chase were nominated for a Grammy Award that same year, and Bill Chase placed in the number two spot (behind Frank Zappa) in a poll of the top pop musicians of the year, while Down Beat rated the Chase LP as the top pop album of 1971. Ironically, that first album sounded at times just a little bit like the original late-1967-era Al Kooper-led version of Blood, Sweat & Tears, a group whose inspiration had also come from Maynard Ferguson (in that case, Kooper's admiration for Ferguson's sound).
Chase delivered even more in their live performances where, by most accounts, they seemed to put out a 100 percent effort at every show. Indeed, they wrecked some of their potential as an opening act because their performances were so strong and overpowering that they embarrassed the headliners. Their reputation soon expanded beyond national boundaries as Chase toured Europe, Africa, and Asia, and in 1972 they recorded a second album, entitled Ennea — by the time it was cut, Burrid had been replaced by Gary Smith and Terry Richards was out, replaced by G.G. Shinn who, in addition to singing, also played the trumpet. Unfortunately, this was also when Bill Chase, who had written the material for the new album, lost the ear of the critics, who didn't like the second album nearly as much as they had the first. Other problems cropped up over the ensuing year, including more personnel changes and Bill Chase being driven into personal bankruptcy. He kept teaching and performing, but the band ceased to exist for several months.
In late 1972, Bill Chase re-formed the group with a new lineup, and during the following year he went through numerous personnel under the Chase name, trying to come up with a new band sound that would work musically for him and that the public would accept. A third Chase album, Pure Music, was forthcoming in 1973 with a new lineup. But the promise and excitement in the press for the 1971 album had dissipated by now, and the new LP received a lukewarm reception, though the band was getting enough gigs to work steadily.
On August 9, 1974, Chase were traveling by plane to Minnesota for a performance at the Jackson County Fair when they flew into bad weather — in the ensuing crash, Bill Chase, along with bandmembers Wally Yohn, John Emma, and Walter Clark, were killed with their two pilots. The tragedy generated shock waves throughout the jazz community, although in the world of popular music, which was becoming dominated by arena rock acts and beginning its embrace of disco, as well as encountering the noise of the punk rock sideshow, Chase were soon forgotten by listeners without long memories. A tribute album entitled Watch Closely Now, by surviving band alumni and longtime associates of Bill Chase, was recorded in 1977. In the late '90s all three Chase albums were reissued on CD on the Collectables label. ~ Bruce Eder